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Fun things to do in Southern California

Illustration by James Gulliver Hancock

An editor-curated list of the best fairs, festivals, events, and other things to do in Southern California and beyond.

150th Anniversary of the Los Angeles Public Library

FREE! Ongoing As part of their celebration of a century and a half of educating Southern California residents, the Los Angeles Public Library’s main branch is unveiling an exhibit dedicated to their trove of artifacts, from their humble beginnings as a system from rented rooms over a saloon to their current state as the largest urban library system in the country with 72 branches. The exihibit will trace that sesquicentennial story through photographs and artifacts from the library’s extensive collection. Downtown Los Angeles.

“Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898–1971”

Through April 9 This wide-ranging exhibit includes rare—and rarely seen—feature films, documentaries, newsreels, home movies, and memorabilia that reveal the influence of Black American directors, producers, actors, and artists from 1898’s “Something Good: Negro Kiss” to the “Blaxploitation” movies of the ’70s. Adults, $15–$25; ages 17 and under, free. Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, Los Angeles.

“Desert X”

FREE! Through May 7 This site-specific exhibition continues its focus on social and environmental themes. This year’s theme considers water: how the memory of it has formed our deserts, and how the forces humans exert on the planet affect our environments, for better or worse. Visitors can view the works of participating sculptors, painters, architects, and others via the Desert X app, which includes details about the artists and their installations and a map to the locations. Coachella Valley.

The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch

Through May 14 Fifty acres of vibrant color greet visitors at this working ranch dedicated to growing the extravagantly petaled Tecolote Giant Ranunculus (a.k.a. Persian Butter Cup). Follow trails through the approximately 80 million blooms or opt for a wagon tour (adults, $8). The seasonal display is accompanied by activities such as a Sweet Pea Maze, blueberry picking, tea in the garden, and sunset wine-tasting and food evenings. Adults, $23. Carlsbad.

“13 Women”

FREE! Through August 20 This exhibit, part of the Orange County Museum of Art’s “Looking Back to Look Forward” reopening theme (the museum recently moved into a much larger permanent home next to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts), nods to the women artists who launched the original Balboa Pavilion Gallery in 1962. Spanning the 1960s to the present, the exhibit includes the works of Vija Celmins, Mary Heilmann, and Joan Brown. Orange County Museum of Art, Costa Mesa.

“Don’t Fence Me In: Coming of Age in America’s Concentration Camps”

Through October 1 During World War II, more than 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry were incarcerated in American concentration camps, and about one-third were children. Through photographs, personal stories, and artifacts, this exhibit reveals the strength and ingenuity of young Americans who grew up in the 11 camps. Adults, $16 (free to members and children 5 and under). Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles

Highland Citrus Harvest Festival

FREE! March 25 Get a feel for Highland’s early days as a citrus-growing area when artisans gather to demonstrate such old-timey skills as rope making and blacksmithing. Check out vintage orange crates and farm equipment, then tour the historic homes of the former citrus barons. A car show, food and vendor booths, and live music round out the fun. Palm Avenue and Main Street, Highland.

High Tea at The Biltmore

March 25 and 26, April 8 and 9 No matter how you enter The Biltmore (the palatial, 100-year-old hotel stretches across an entire block), you'll be greeted with glamour and an old-world sense of luxury. To help celebrate their centennial, the hotel is bringing back high tea service for a few weekends only. Guests can enjoy an assortment of sandwiches, scones, pastries, and custom-made tea by Chef Justin Bastian of St. Bastian Tea Company. A reservation also includes a complimentary glass of champagne for adults ages 21 and over. $75 per person, $45 per child. Downtown Los Angeles.

Vegan Street Fair

March 26 A large part of the vegan lifestyle includes this oft-repeated question: What are the vegan options? Whether you're in search of breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, or all of the above, the nearly 50 vendors at the all-ages Vegan Street Fair cover all the bases. Visitors can purchase bite-sized portions ($4 or less each) or larger items, as well as puruse vegan wares. Free admission; food ranges from $4-$40. North Hollywood.

“Skirting Issues: Hula Moves Stateside”

Opening event April 7 (exhibit runs through September 23) Like the Hawaiian Islands, Catalina Island hinges upon a very specific relationship between residents and year-round tourists. Using the history of hula as a launching point for a discussion of cultural authenticity and American colonialism, the Catalina Museum promises to chart the rise of Hawaii’s status as a commodified destination that goes beyond grass skirts and frozen pineapple cocktails. At the opening event during First Fridays at the museum, visitors can enjoy light bites and cocktail hour, view the exhibition, learn about the hula tradition, and meet with the guest curator, Amy Kuʻuleialoha Stillman, and the lender to the exhibition, Kumu Hula Kealiʻi Ceballos. The opening event is free for memebers and $10 for non-members, and registration is required. Regular admission to the musuem is $18 for adults. Catalina Museum for Art & History, Catalina.

Sushi & Sake

April 8 Though widely known for its grape-growing terrain, Temecula also embraces fermented malt and rice. This third annual event at the Pechanga Resort Casino promises an array of fresh sushi prepared in-house to pair with wonderful rice wines from home and abroad, from cold and cloudy to crisp and glowing. Enjoy the sounds of a traditional Japanese Taiko drummer, a Japanese guitarist, and a Japanese harpist while you indulge. General admission, $120; includes more than 40 varieties of sake, 8 types of beer, and sushi; $75 for designated drivers. Pechanga, Temecula.

Orange County Cherry Blossom Festival

April 14–16 Inspired by an international student exchange program between Huntington Beach and its sister city, Anjo, Japan, this annual spring celebration features taiko drumming, minyo, classical dance, gagaku music, origami, and ikebana as well as cosplay contests, anime characters, electronic music, jazz, video game tournaments, and Japanese food and drink at the Sakura Night Market. Proceeds help fund the student exchange program.

California Museum of Photography: CMP at 50

FREE! April 15-August 6 The California Museum of Photography, located on the UC Riverside campus, started in 1973 as a camera collection. Gradually they acquired prints and ephemera, which has resulted in a collection of more than 500,000 items. This exhibit celebrating half a century of the museum will focus on the entire history of the art form from Civil War-era tintype prints to contemporary cellphone shots. Sixty-eight artists will be represented in the show, including Man Ray, Ansel Adams, and Graciela Iturbide. University of California, Riverside.

California Wine Festival

April 15 This oceanfront tasting event combines sun, sea, food, wine and music. Enjoy hundreds of California’s finest wines, regional craft beer, artisanal cheeses, breads, olive oil, seafood, salads, desserts, and live music. Tickets start at $75 and include all wine and food samples and a keepsake wine glass. The event benefits the Sandy Feet Initiative and Surfrider Foundation South Orange County Chapter. Sea Terrace Park, Dana Point.

South Coast Cactus & Succulent Society Annual Show & Sale

FREE! April 15–16 Discover an array of hard-to-find plants, thousands of cactus and succulents for sale, and beautiful displays by expert growers, and get expert advice on growing and caring for these desert plants. Palos Verdes Art Center, Rancho Palos Verdes

20th Annual Theodore Payne Native Plant Garden Tour

April 15–16 Want to replace your water-hogging lawn but not sure where to start? Take a self-guided tour of some 30 to 40 public and private gardens in L.A. heavy on native plants and other water-thrifty options. These gardens not only save water—and dollars—but also provide a welcoming habitat for wildlife. Tickets, $45, include all-you-need-to-know guidebook. Los Angeles.

Coronado Flower Show

April 15–16 Local gardeners are the stars of this show, which draws thousands of attendees eager to see what their Coronado neighbors have achieved. Categories include roses, orchids, cacti, succulents, and bonsai, with awards in each section plus one for best children’s entry. Stop by the informational booths for help on how to enhance your own garden. Tickets, $10. Spreckels Park, Coronado.

Taste of Ojai

April 16 This art and music enclave expands its appeal with a chance to sample the best food and refreshments from some 30 local restaurants and up to 10 wineries and breweries. Tickets for this Rotary Club fundraiser also include tours of art galleries plus live music at Libbey Park, where the event closes at sunset with a dessert-and-wine tasting. Tickets, $90. Various locations, Ojai.

Bolsa Chica Earth Day Festival

FREE! April 22 This Earth Day, check out the vast range of natural life that thrives beside the highway. Interact with animals, test the water quality, take a guided tour of the area, and stop by activity and food booths. Bolsa Chica Ecological Preserve, Huntington Beach.

Pet Day on the Bay

April 29 Southern California dogs live a good life: They rarely have to walk on snow; they have their own beaches (some of them even surf!), and there are ample acting opportunities. Show your canines some extra love by taking them along on an hour-long cruise on San Diego Bay, where you'll see the sights, enjoy a few treats (for both you and your furry friend), and talk to professional adoption counselors while you pet adoptable pups! A portion of proceeds benefits the Helen Woodward Animal Center, and guests are encouraged to bring a gently used blanket or towel that will help pups in need. Adults, $35 (one dog 6 months or older allowed per person). Pier 1, Hornblower Landing, San Diego.

Bungalow Heaven Home Tour

April 30 This Pasadena neighborhood is made up of historic, early 20th-century bungalow homes built in the Craftsman and English Revival styles from 1900 to about 1925. In 1989, it was designated a Landmark District, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. For the first time in 2 years, you can tour several of these homes in person. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 the day of the event; proceeds benefit the Bungalow Heaven Neighborhood Association. Pasadena.

Canyon Artist Studio Tour

May 6 A community of like-minded artists in Silverado and Modesjka canyons came together during the pandemic to create an art tour, where people could visit individual studios rather than gathering in a single place. Now going on its third year, the collective invites visitors on this self-guided journey to see the works of 15 to 20 ceramicists, painters, photographers, and jewelry makers. Visit the website for participating artists, maps, and more information. Silverado and Modesjka canyons.

Calico Ghost Town Annual Bluegrass Festival

May 13 Gunfighters engage in shootouts for tour buses on weekends year-round at this vibrant spot in the open desert, but the Calico Ghost Town’s lively bluegrass festival is held only once a year. If you make a camping reservation, 4 festival tickets are included. Adults, $10. Yermo.

San Diego International Fringe Festival

May 18–28 The San Diego International Fringe Festival assembles a madcap assortment of ambitious performers from across the U.S. and around the world. This 11-day event allows actors, singers, monologists, puppeteers, and more to showcase their art, with an emphasis on homegrown talent. Three-show pass, $27. Various venues, San Diego.

Benedict Castle Concours Car Show

May 21 The nearly 100-year-old Benedict Castle appears right at home hosting this annual event that welcomes show cars of all stripes. Lowriders, hot rods, motorcycles, muscle cars, tricked-out trucks, and concours-quality cars will be displayed on the verdant lawns. Visitors can also take a guided tour through the castle and learn about its architect, who also designed L.A.’s Biltmore Hotel. General admission, $10; castle tour, $10. Riverside.

Crawfish Festival

May 19–21 This celebration of delicious freshwater crustaceans is about more than food. It’s about culture, particularly that of the American South. Bring your appetite and enjoy cooking demonstrations; second-line parades; magic shows; and nonstop zydeco, R&B, and soul performances. Fat Friday general admission, $5; Saturday and Sunday 1-day general admission, $13. Fountain Valley Sports Park, Fountain Valley.

California Strawberry Festival

May 20–21 The humble strawberry has a lot going for it: It’s bite-sized, colorful, and delicious. This festival celebrates those wonderful traits and serves up strawberries that are fried, steamed, frozen, baked, and chocolate-dipped. Event highlights include 3 concert stages; a Ninja Warrior–type obstacle course; and the Strawberry Baby Fashion Show, a sartorial event for toddler attendees. Adults, $15. Ventura County Fairgrounds, Ventura.

Tea at the Huntington

Opening May 24 The Huntington’s Rose Garden Tea Room will reopen May 24 following a major renovation. The refurbished building includes upgraded indoor dining space and a new outdoor dining pavilion overlooking the Shakespeare Garden. Adults, $25–$29 (for admission to the Huntington). The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino.

Classic at Pismo Beach

FREE! June 2–4 During most of the year, the base of the Pismo Beach Pier is a great place to catch a sunset. For 3 days this June, it will also be a great place to see more than 800 classic cars from around the world. Car owners can also register to take part in a cruise route through the center of town. Beer gardens, live music, a charity auction, and an awards ceremony round out the 37th annual event. Pismo Beach Pier.

Pasadena Chalk Festival

FREE! June 17–18 Bring Dad and the rest of the family to the 30th annual chalk festival, held over Father’s Day weekend, which will feature more than 200 chalk murals by 500 artists, along with live music, food, an art gallery, a silent auction, an animation alley, and kids’ activities. The Paseo, Pasadena.

Baroque Music Festival

June 18–25 It no doubt would have pleased Johann Sebastian Bach to know that his work, which laid the foundation for Western classical music, is still being praised and performed more than 270 years after his passing. The 43rd festival will highlight Bach’s legacy at various venues in Newport Beach.

Palms Springs International ShortFest

June 20–26 Part of the Palm Springs International Film Festival, this weeklong event is dedicated to movies that range from a few minutes to 40 minutes in length. In other words, the ShortFest is one of the best places to enjoy some of cinema’s most economic storytellers. Tickets start at $13 for a general screening; 6-pack pass, $69. Camelot Theatres, Palm Springs.

Delicious Little Tokyo

FREE! June 24 Little Tokyo may not be a large neighborhood, but it teems with enough restaurants to feed 10 times its population. Sip and snack your way through this event, which includes workshops, free activities and giveaways, and self-guided food tours. Little Tokyo, Los Angeles.

Ocean Beach Street Fair & Chili Cook-Off

FREE! June 24 More than 50,000 visitors flock to this annual beachside event featuring 3 stages of nonstop music, a beer garden, regional artisans, a wing-eating contest, community mural painting, a kids’ fun zone, and, of course, a chili competition. Chili-tasting tickets, $25. Downtown Ocean Beach.

Santa Barbara National Horse Show

July 5–8 Last year, Play Dirty and Storm the Beach took home $1,000 apiece competing in the long-running Central Coast competition. This year, at the 103rd show, more than $10,000 is at stake for highly trained show horses. Earl Warren Showgrounds, Santa Barbara.

Pageant of the Masters

July 7–September 1 Prior to its 90-year tradition of presenting “living pictures”—3D re-creations of famous artworks using live actors—Laguna Beach already had a global reputation as an artists’ haven. This year’s theme, “Art Colony: In the Company of Artists,” pays homage to the deep connections and memorable stories of artists assisting each other throughout the world and throughout history. Tickets start at $35. Festival of Arts, Laguna Beach.

The Wizard of Oz

July 7–23 While L. Frank Baum’s Dorothy appeared in more than a dozen of his novels as well as countless television shows and movies, it was Judy Garland’s portrayal in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz that defined that whimsical mixture of innocence and rebellion. Musical Theatre West, whose large-scale stagings bring Broadway-sized productions to Long Beach’s Carpenter Center, presents Dorothy's story, complete with Harold Arlen’s memorable tunes and Yip Harburg’s singular wordplay. Tickets start at $20. Long Beach.

Oxnard Salsa Festival

FREE! July 29–30 It’s easy to understand why one might ask whether this festival refers to the dance or the condiment. The answer is both! Show off your moves while you listen to 6 salsa bands perform, and sample a menu of Mexican-American delights with a spice scale to suit everyone’s taste buds. Also enjoy a vendor marketplace and a Kids Zone with rides, games, and crafts. Lawn or chair seating at the concert venue is $5 per person (children 10 and under are free). Plaza Park, Oxnard.


FREE! indicates free admission to the event, but additional fees may be required. Be sure to designate a driver if you plan to drink alcohol.

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